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25. The Helmet of Salvation and the Sword of the Spirit

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Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)

In studying the armor of God and our need to stand in spiritual warfare, we must remember that each piece of armor not only represents an action or attitude that we need to daily practice, but it also represents ways our enemy attacks us.

We need the belt of truth because Satan is a liar who tries to deceive us and keep us from God’s best. We need the breastplate of righteousness because Satan continually attacks our vital organs which represent our mind and emotions. In addition, when believers sin, we become vulnerable to our enemy. Believers need the footing of peace because Satan is always trying to attack our relationship with God and our relationships with others. The gospel, truly understood and applied, produces peace with God, the peace of God, and peace with others. The last piece of armor considered was the shield of faith. Our enemy always encourages us to doubt God and his promises. However, it is by believing in God and his promises that we can stand in the war.

In today’s study, we will consider two more pieces of armor—the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. We will consider what they represent, why we need them, and how to put them on.

Big Questions: How can we stand firm in spiritual warfare with the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit? What do they represent, why do we need them, and how do we put them on?

Believers Stand Firm by Putting On the Helmet of Salvation

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17  )

Here, Paul pictures the Roman soldier’s helmet. James Boice’s comments are helpful:

The helmet had a band to protect the forehead and plates for the cheeks, and extended down in back to protect the neck. When the helmet was strapped in place, it exposed little besides the eyes, nose, and mouth. The metal helmets, due to their weight, were lined with sponge or felt. Virtually the only weapons which could penetrate a metal helmet were hammers or axes.3

In warfare, the enemy commonly attacked the head since the solder’s mind controlled his decisions and reactions in a fight. To harm the head was to gain an advantage in combat. Our enemy, Satan, does the same.

Interpretation Question: What does the helmet of salvation represent?

1. The helmet of salvation represents assurance of salvation.

As with every other piece of armor, the helmet of salvation shows us how the enemy attacks. Here we see how he attacks the believer’s assurance of salvation. Satan’s use of assurance is actually two pronged. He seeks to assure professed believers who are not truly saved that they are, in fact, “safe,” and he plants seeds of doubt in those who are truly saved, leading to discouragement and depression. Personally, I’ve noticed it is often the Christians who are walking faithfully with God that struggle the most with assurance. And those who are not walking faithfully with him are not very concerned about their salvation at all, even though they should be.

When true believers are constantly worried about their salvation, they are not much use to the kingdom of God. They typically don’t evangelize or serve. They essentially stop growing because they are too concerned with themselves. This is why attacking the head is a common tactic of Satan—it makes a Christian unprofitable.

Application Question: How can believers be assured of their salvation?

  • Believers must recognize their need for assurance.

In many churches, pastors never teach on the need for assurance of salvation. It’s almost a forgotten doctrine. However, this is unwise. Christ says this about the last days:

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:22-23)

Many in the church profess Christ but are not saved. Jesus explains this in the Parable of the Weeds and Wheat (Matt 13:36-43). God plants wheat—true believers—and Satan plants weeds—false believers. Because of this reality, we must consider if we are truly saved.

Paul and Peter both taught the need for assurance. Second Corinthians 13:5 says this: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” Similarly, 2 Peter 1:10 says: “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall.”

All believers must examine themselves to see if their salvation is real. This is not something to put off; we must eagerly pursue such assurance. The first step is to recognize our need for it in light of the fact that Scripture commands us to seek it.

  • Believers must use the tests in Scripture to confirm their salvation.

Several portions of Scripture are written specifically for this purpose. The primary text is the book of 1 John. John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). In the book, he gives a series of tests so we can know that we have eternal life.

Application Question: What are some of these tests?

  • The test of obedience.

First John 2:3-5 says,

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:

Faithful obedience to God and his Word is a proof of true salvation. Christ says, “If you abide in my words, then you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31, ESV). If we don’t love his Word and continually follow it, we have no reason to call ourselves Christians in the first place.

Are you abiding in his Word?

  • The test of love for Christians.

First John 3:14-15 says,

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

Similarly, Jesus says, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another” (John 13:35). If we are lacking a supernatural love for other believers, then we are not his disciples. At spiritual birth, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).

I really struggle when I meet people who profess Christ but say they don’t need to attend church. If they are true Christians, they will want to attend church. Why? Not just out of love for God, but also out of love for other believers. They will want to be with believers and use their gifts to build them up. They will want to pray with them and serve them. This is a natural fruit of love. If a person doesn’t even want to be around the church, then they don’t love the believers and surely they are not saved.

Do you love your brothers?

  • The test of doctrine.

First John 4:15 says, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.” This is a proper acknowledgment of Christ’s humanity and deity. (The name “Jesus” represents his humanity and “Son of God” represents his deity). This is what keeps many cult members out of heaven—they have bad Christology. To them, Christ was either not a man or not God. He was an angel or something else. In the above statement John was refuting the doctrine of the Gnostic cult, which was attacking the Ephesian church. It’s also a problem in many cults today and for many professing “Christians.” They believe Christ was a good man and a good religious teacher, but not the Son of God.

Do you pass the doctrinal test?

  • The test of not loving the World.

First John 2:15 says,

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

True believers are different from the world and the culture around them. Where the rich man was not willing to leave his riches to follow Christ (Matt 19:16-22), the true believer is willing to leave the praise, adoration and riches of this world for the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 14:26-27).

It is sobering to consider that the rich man was highly spiritual. We know he appeared righteous because he kept the law; he also desired eternal life. Since we can’t see the heart, we would have quickly taught him the Four Spiritual Laws, then had him say the Sinner’s Prayer and join the church. Because he was an upright person and a successful businessman, he would soon have been an elder in most churches.  However, he had never been born again. He was living for the riches of the world and not for God.

Many professed believers are kept out of the kingdom because they don’t truly love God. They love him only for what they can get. They want the riches of this world—health and wealth—but they don’t want a Lord and they don’t want a cross. Sadly, this might be the majority of “Christians,” especially because of the widespread influence of the prosperity gospel.

Are you willing to reject the world and the things of the world to follow Christ? Or—like the rich man—do you want both salvation and the things of this world?

  • The test of decreasing sin.

First John 3:6,9 says,

No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him... No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

John says “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” This was the professing Christians’ problem in Matthew 7:21-23. Jesus said to them, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you.” They professed Christ, but lived a life of sin. True salvation always changes the lifestyle of believers (2 Cor 5:17). They still sin, but the direction and pattern of their lives will be different. They will practice living for God and yet stumble—sometimes repeatedly. However, the direction of their lives will have changed—they will be trying to serve and honor God.

Is there a pattern of decreasing sin in your life? Or do you profess Christ, but not live for him?

  • The test of persecution for righteousness.

First John 3:12-13 says,

Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.  Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.

Because of their changed lives and values, believers will often be hated and persecuted by society. Jesus gives persecution as a test of salvation. In Matthew 5:10, he says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

He essentially says that those who are persecuted for their faith are part of the kingdom of heaven. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we will all be beaten, stoned, or jailed. Persecution often shows up in more subtle ways, like verbal abuse or being considered strange. First Peter 4:3-4 says,

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.

Do others find you strange because you don’t get drunk like everybody else? Do people find you strange because you have chosen to practice chastity until marriage? This is normal for a Christian. You will receive some type of persecution from the world.

  • The test of perseverance.

First John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” In talking about those leaving the Ephesian church to join the Gnostic cult, John says that they left because they were never truly saved. This is the final truth that we will consider. Those who are truly born again will continue to walk with Christ and will never ultimately turn their backs on him (cf. Matt 24:13). 

Similarly, Paul says this in Colossians 1:22-23:

But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel…

Our reconciliation to God is proved by a faith that endures and continues in the hope of the gospel.

Are you still following Christ? Is your faith enduring?

These are just a few of the tests. All the Beatitudes are essentially tests of salvation, and the book of James has many as well. James says, “Faith without works is dead” (2:26). If our faith doesn’t change us, it won’t change our eternal destiny either.

Are you continually examining yourself? Has God given you a love for the saints and for his Word? Do you believe that Jesus is the perfect God-man?

Again, this challenge to test our salvation has almost been lost in the church. Therefore, we are amassing professing believers who are not really saved. And many who are saved don’t know how to put on the helmet of salvation—referring to assurance—which makes them an easy target for the accusations of the devil.

Paul often teaches assurance side by side with the need to respond to the gospel. In Acts 26:20 he says, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” Essentially, we prove our salvation by growing and producing the fruit of righteousness (cf. 2 Peter 1:10, 5-9).

It should be noted that salvation is eternal. Eternal security is an objective reality based on what Christ has done for us. He gives us eternal life and he keeps us (cf. John 6:37-39, John 10:27-30, Rom 8:38-39). Those who are truly saved will never lose their salvation. They will persevere in following Christ to the end.

However, assurance is not eternal. It is a subjective experience given by the Holy Spirit, and it can be temporary. Romans 8:15-16 says,

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

The Holy Spirit assures our hearts primarily by changing us into the Father’s image—making us holy. Therefore, when believers are faithfully walking with God, they can clearly discern the Holy Spirit’s assurance that they are children of God. But when believers are living in sin, they commonly start to lose that assurance.

Do you have assurance? Do you have on the helmet of salvation? Satan wants to steal the joy of your salvation. He wants to steal your calling and the good works God has called you to. If you don’t know you’re saved, then your head is vulnerable and you’re not prepared to fight.

What else could the helmet of salvation represent?

2. The helmet of salvation represents anticipation of our future salvation.

First Thessalonians 5:8 says, “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” Paul calls the helmet the hope of salvation. James Boice’s comments are helpful here:

If that is what he is thinking of here, then he is looking to our destiny rather than our present state. He is saying that our anticipation of that end will protect our heads in the heat (and often confusion) of the battle.1

Therefore, if we have lost the hope of our future salvation, we will not be able to stand in this spiritual battle. The luxuries of the world will draw us into idolatry and spiritual lethargy; the trials and persecutions in this world will draw our hearts away from God and our heavenly home. However, when believers hope in their salvation, that hope keeps them from living for the world and/or fearing persecution by the world.

Consider what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul says he and the other apostles did not lose heart during their trials because their eyes were fixed on eternity. His trials seemed like light afflictions because he was focused on the glory of heaven. This focus kept him from becoming unraveled when going through temporary trials. He was wearing the helmet of salvation. In Philippians 1:21, Paul says, “To live is Christ but to die is gain.” He was ready to die a martyr for Christ because of his hope in salvation.

And surely this is true of many great missionaries who go into foreign territories and wage war against the powers and principalities for the souls of men. They do not hold their lives or comfort dear because their hope is eternal. Their eyes are fixed on the unseen and not on the seen. And this must be true for us as well.

Here we can discern one of Satan’s most effective modes of attack. He attacks our heads by drawing our attention away from the eternal to the temporary. If our hope is on earth and earthly things—jobs, promotions, wealth, health, and the applause of men—we will be ineffective soldiers in this spiritual war. We will be unstable—up and down with the events of life. The enemy will continually attack our heads because they are unprotected—they are focused on the world instead of eternity.

Is death really gain for you, or is it the loss of all you live for? Can you rejoice while going through a trial, not getting promoted, or going through criticism—because your hope is on heavenly things and not on earthly things? If so, you are ready for war—you are ready to stand firm in this spiritual battle.

Application Questions: What is your belief about eternal security? Can believers lose their salvation or is it eternally kept by Christ? Briefly support your view. How can believers develop assurance of their salvation and why is it important? If the helmet of salvation refers to our hope of salvation, how can we keep our eyes on the eternal instead of the earthly?

Believers Stand Firm by Taking Up the Sword of the Spirit

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)

Interpretation Question: What is the sword of the Spirit?

The sword Paul refers to is not the broadsword (rhomphaia) but the dagger (machaira), which varied in length from six to eighteen inches. It was the common sword used by Roman soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, and was carried in a sheath attached to the belt.2

A skillful soldier used it to deflect the blows of his enemy, and the Word of God must be used in this fashion. We get a picture of this when Satan attacked Christ in the wilderness (Matt 4). To each of Satan’s temptations, Christ responded with Scripture. Therefore, the Christian who does not know the Word of God well will have problems defending against the attacks of the devil.

What’s interesting about Paul’s description of the sword as the “word” of God is the Greek term used. John MacArthur says this:

The term Paul uses here for word is not logos, which refers to general statements or messages, but is rhēma, which refers to individual words or particular statements. The apostle is therefore not talking here about general knowledge of Scripture, but is emphasizing again the precision that comes by knowledge and understanding of specific truths.3

James Boice adds:

While logos embraces nearly everything, rhēma has a slighter weight. It really means “a saying,” in this case, a particular, specific portion of God’s written revelation. John 3:16 is a rhēma. Romans 3:23 is a rhēma, and so on for all the other specific portions of the written “Word of God.” It is important to see this, as I said, because according to Paul’s teaching we are to overcome Satan by the particular words or portions of Scripture.4

This emphasizes the extreme power of each Scripture verse. Christ said that man shall not live by bread alone but by “EVERY” word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4). Scripture is God-inspired and powerful. It can translate a person from darkness to light and defeat the attacks of the devil. Therefore, we must know and love God’s Word.

However, even though most Christians would say they believe this, in practice they deny it. Though they know Scripture equips the man of God for all righteousness and that each saying is powerful (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17), they largely neglect it. Sadly, this is also seen in most preaching today. Instead of messages that drive the sword home, setting people free from sin and sharpening their consciences, most sermons are a chain of illustrations to support the pastor’s thoughts, which may or may not come from Scripture.

For some preachers, this happens because of laziness. It takes hard work to really preach God’s Word. But for many, it probably happens simply because they don’t really believe how powerful each Word from God is. Each rhema—each verse of Scripture—is a surgical scalpel—needed to save and heal lives. We cannot fend off Satan with stories and illustrations, no matter how much people enjoy them. They need the Word of God.

Both in the pulpit and in the pew, people profess to believe in the power and necessity of the Word of God, yet they deny it by their actions.

Moses tells the Jews to talk about the Word of God at home, when walking along the road, when lying down, and when getting up (Deut 6:7). At that time, the Jews had only a few books of the Bible to talk about, but we have the whole written counsel of God. However, we probably talk about it much less than they did.

Application Question: How do we take up the sword of the Spirit?

The word “take” is a command. If we are going to fight this spiritual battle, we must take the sword of the Spirit—the Word of God.

1. We take up the sword of the Spirit by reading Scripture.

Most Christians have never completely read the Bible. By reading 3.25 chapters a day, or slightly over twelve minutes a day, one can complete the Bible in a year. Or, if a person reads only thirteen chapters a day, they can complete the Bible in three months. Isn’t it do-able to read six or seven chapters in the morning and six or seven at night to complete the Bible in three months?

Are you taking up your sword by reading Scripture daily?

2. We take up the sword of the Spirit by memorizing Scripture.

Again, the “word” of God Paul refers to in 2 Tim 3:17 is specific sayings—not the whole of Scripture. Christ defeated the devil with specific Scriptures committed to memory. Similarly, Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Each verse that we memorize is a dagger to help us in spiritual warfare. How many daggers do you have memorized? If we memorize one verse a week, that equals fifty-two verses a year.

3. We take up the sword of the Spirit by meditating on Scripture.

Psalm 1:2 talks about the blessing on the man who meditates on the law of God day and night. The word “meditate” in the Hebrew was used of a cow chewing its cud. A cow has a chambered stomach with four compartments. It chews and swallows its food, then regurgitates it and repeats the process. This usage of the word “meditate” also has the connotation of muttering under the breath. The Hebrew word used can be translated “ponder” or “declare.”5 It means to speak God’s Word over and over again, both audibly and inaudibly.

God blesses the person who thinks and speaks about the Word of God all day. This person is taking up the sword of the Spirit.

Are you meditating on Scripture all day long—pondering it and talking about it?

4. We take up the sword of the Spirit by studying Scripture.

Second Timothy 2:15 (KJV) says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” “Study,” which can also be translated “Be diligent” or “Do your best,” obviously overlaps with reading, memorizing and meditating.

Application Question: How can we practice studying Scripture?

  • We study by taking notes during sermons, Bible studies, and our devotions in order to help commit the truths to memory.
  • We study by comparing portions of Scripture with other portions in order to better understand the meaning and application.
  • We study by using tools to increase our understanding, such as a study Bible, concordance, commentary, or theological dictionary (cf. Eph 4:11-13).
  • We study by writing the truths in a systematic manner to organize our thoughts.
  • We study by teaching the truths we’re learning to others, which is the most effective way to internalize something.

One of the problems in the church today is that people don’t want to study the Bible. They are “hard of hearing,” and have to be retaught the same truths over and over. Hebrews 5:11-12 says this:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!

I think it is especially important for parents to teach their children how to study the Bible and not just listen—otherwise they will continue to lose what they learn. Again, 2 Timothy 2:15 says those who study—those who do their best—will be approved by God. Those who do not study don’t really care about the truths they hear, and will therefore forget them. These people will not be approved by God.

Since our churches are filled with people who don’t study (or care to study), most pastors can’t teach the depths of God’s Word. The writer of Hebrews says he wants to teach them more, but he can’t because the congregation is “hard of hearing.” What’s happened in our day is that the church no longer teaches doctrine, but has handed that sacred task over to Bible colleges and seminaries. Most church services are filled with the milk of God’s Word instead of the meat.

Doctrine needs to be restored to God’s church, but the church also needs to be prepared to receive it. It’s inspiring to read the sermons of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones—the content is amazingly deep. For example, Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached 232 sermons on the book of Ephesians over an 8-year period (1954-1962).6 However, the only way people can receive such content is by studying it.

If you’re going to stand against Satan’s attacks, you must take up the Sword of the Spirit—the Word of God—by reading, meditating on, memorizing, and studying it.

Application Question: What is your Bible study routine like? How can it be improved?

Conclusion

How can we stand firm by taking up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit?

1. Believers Stand Firm by Putting on the Helmet of Salvation

Do you have assurance of salvation? Are you proving your salvation by growing and producing fruit?

Do you have the hope of your final salvation? If not, you will become worldly, earthly, and vulnerable to the temptations of the devil.

2. Believers Stand Firm by Taking up the Sword of the Spirit

Are you taking up the sword by reading the Word, memorizing it, meditating on it, and studying it?

Copyright © 2016 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV or AKJV are from the King James Version or Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentators’ quotations have been added.


1 Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (p. 248). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 367–368). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 370). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (p. 252). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.

5 Accessed 11/23/2015 from http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/hagah.html

6 Accessed 11/23/2015 from http://www.mljtrust.org/sermons/

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